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F I L E D

United States Court of Appeals


Tenth Circuit
UNITED STATES CO URT O F APPEALS
TENTH CIRCUIT

February 21, 2007


Elisabeth A. Shumaker
Clerk of Court

LEONID DM ITRUK, Administrator of


the Estate of Alexander Bugaychuk,
deceased; Y ELEN A BU G A Y CHUK,
an individual; NATALIA M ELNIK, an
individual; IR IN A MO R O ZO V ,
Personally and as Administrator of the
Estate of Yevgeniy M orozov, deceased
and as Guardian for Sara M orozov a
minor and Eleanna M orozov a minor,
Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.

No. 06-1188

GEORGE AND SONS REPAIR


SHOP, INC., D.B.A. G EORGES
TOWING; and GEORGE ROSLER,

(D.C. No. 03-cv-2355-RPM )


(D . Colo.)

Defendants-Appellees.

OR D ER AND JUDGM ENT *

Before O BRIEN, BALDO CK , and HO LM ES, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiffs brought this negligence action after their relatives, Yevgeny


M orozov and Alexander Bugaychuk, were killed when their vehicle crashed into the
back of a semi-truck parked on an exit ramp along Interstate 70 in Colorado. The

This order and judgment is not binding precedent except under the
doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, and collateral estoppel. It may be cited,
however, for its persuasive value consistent with Fed. R. App. P. 32.1 and 10th
Cir. R. 32.1.

district court granted Defendants motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs


claims. Plaintiffs now appeal that judgment. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to
28 U.S.C. 1291.

After studying the briefs and the record, and hearing oral

argument, we affirm the district courts judgment because Plaintiffs failed to present
sufficient evidence of proximate cause.
I.
On the morning of November 26, 2001, an Angel Express semi-truck Jorge
Lage was driving became stuck in the snow on the eastbound side of Interstate 70 in
eastern Colorado. Colorado Highway Patrol called Defendant George and Sons
Repair Shop, seeking a tow-truck to pull the Angel Express semi-truck back onto the
road. Defendant George Rosler responded, hooked up his tow-truck to the semitruck, and pulled it back onto the pavement. Rosler then unhooked the tow-truck and
asked Lage to follow him to the next exit to settle the bill. The two trucks traveled
eastbound on Interstate 70 approximately one mile, and then exited out of the tw o
main lanes of travel on Interstate 70, merging into a third exit lane. The exit lane,
which led only to pasture land, was snow packed. The two trucks came to a stop, the
tow-truck in the front and the Angel Express directly behind the tow-truck, as far
right in the exit lane as possible w ithout going into the ditch. B oth trucks had their
hazard lights flashing, but neither driver placed warning triangles out on the highway
beside or behind their vehicles.
Rosler stayed in his tow-truck w hile Lage telephoned his company to arrange
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for payment. A few minutes after the trucks came to a stop, a Budget-Rent-A-Van
(a small moving van), driven by Y evgeny M orozov slammed into the back of the
semi-truck. Police determined M orozov did not brake or otherwise attempt to avoid
the A ngel Express truck. Also, police estimates indicate M orozov was traveling at
least 43 m.p.h., a high rate of speed for the road conditions. M orozov died instantly.
His passenger, Alexander Bugaychuk, died several hours later.
Plaintiffs, M orozov and Bugychuks family members and estate administrators,
first filed suit for wrongful death and personal injuries against Angel Express and
Jorge Lage in W ashington state court. W hile that action was pending, Plaintiffs filed
suit against Rosler and George and Sons in the United States D istrict Court in
Colorado. Plaintiffs claimed Rosler was negligent in failing to place triangular
warning devices behind the stopped trucks. Plaintiffs eventually added Lage and
Angel Express as Defendants in the Colorado action. Plaintiffs subsequently settled
the W ashington state suit with Lage and A ngel E xpress and dismissed them as
defendants in the Colorado action, leaving only the claims against Rosler and George
and Sons.

M eanw hile, Bugaychuks heirs and the administrator of his estate

(Plaintiffs Yelena Bugaychuk, Natalia M elnik and Leonid Dmitruk) recovered from
Budget Van Rentals insurance company under the theory that M orozov was
responsible for the accident.

In so doing, these Plaintiffs signed a Release,

releasing M orozovs estate, Budget, the insurance company, and all other persons,
firms, corporations, associations and partnerships from any future claims.
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Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing they were not
responsible for the accident, or, in the alternative, Plaintiffs Washington state
lawsuit acted as a bar to their Colorado lawsuit inasmuch as Colo. Rev. Stat. 1321-203(1) permits only one wrongful death action of any one decedent. Defendants
also argued Plaintiffs Yelena Bugaychuk, Natalia M elnik, and Leonid Dmitruk
released their claims against Defendants when they signed the Release after
settling with Budget Van Rentals insurance company.
motion for partial summary judgment.

Plaintiffs filed a cross-

Plaintiffs argued Defendants failure to

comply with Colo. Rev. Stat. 42-4-230 and a similar federal regulation, which
require placement of warning triangles behind vehicles parked along highw ays,
constituted negligence per se.

The district court agreed with Defendants in all

respects, granted their motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiffs motion
for partial summary judgment.
II.
W e review the district courts summary judgment order de novo, using the
same standards applied by the district court. Stover v. M artinez, 382 F.3d 1064,
1070 (10th Cir. 2004). Essentially, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided
that one party must prevail as a matter of law . A nderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). This is a diversity case and the parties agree Colorado

negligence law governs the liability aspect of Plaintiffs claims. 1

A.
To succeed in a negligence action in Colorado, a plaintiff must show the
existence of a duty on the part of the defendant; a breach of that duty; a causal
connection between defendants breach and plaintiffs injury; and injury to the
plaintiff. Oliver v. Amity M ut. Irrigation Co., 994 P.2d 495, 497 (Colo. Ct. App.
1999). Plaintiffs allege Roslers failure to place warning triangles behind his vehicle
as required by Colorado law and federal highway regulations, establishes negligence.
In particular, Plaintiffs charge Defendants with violating the following Colorado
statute:
[W ]henever a motor vehicle . . . is stopped upon the traveled portion of
a highway or the shoulder of a highway for any cause other than
necessary traffic stops, the driver shall, as soon as possible, but in any
event within ten minutes, place the bidirectional emergency reflective
triangles in the following manner:
a) One at the traffic side of the stopped vehicle, w ithin ten feet of the
front or rear of the vehicle;
b) One at a distance of approximately one hundred feet from the
stopped vehicle in the center of the traffic lane or shoulder occupied by
the vehicle and in the direction of the traffic approaching in that lane;

The parties disagree about whether W ashington or Colorado law applies


as to the rules of recovery, including whether Colorados w rongful death statute
prohibits multiple wrongful death actions and whether punitive damages are
available to Plaintiffs. W e need not reach these issues in light of our conclusion
that Plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence of proximate cause.
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and
c) One at a distance of approximately one hundred feet from the stopped
vehicle in the opposite direction from those placed in accordance with
paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection (3) in the center of the traffic
lane or shoulder occupied by the vehicle[.]
Colo. Rev. Stat. 42-4-230(3). Plaintiffs also allege Defendants violated a similar
federal regulation requiring commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate
comm erce to place warning devices up to 500 feet from a stopped vehicle. See 49
C.F.R 392.22.
In granting Defendants motion for sum mary judgm ent, the district court
determined nothing in the record suggested absence of the warning triangles behind
the trucks caused the collision. 2 Defendants argued below, and now on appeal, that
they complied w ith Colo. Rev. Stat. 42-4-230 because the accident occurred less
than ten minutes after Rosler and the Angel Express truck came to a stop.
Defendants also argue they were under no obligation to comply with the federal
regulation because G eorge and Sons is not engaged in interstate commerce. A s
demonstrated below, we need not determine whether Defendants violated Colo. Rev.

In addition to this ruling, the district court decided Colo. Rev. Stat. 1321-203 barred Plaintiffs from bringing a second wrongful death action in
Colorado as they already brought a similar action in W ashington. Additionally,
the district court broadly read the Release, signed by Bugaychuks heirs when
they settled with Budget Van Rentals insurance company, to bar all subsequent
claims for recovery for Bugaychuks death. Like the issues surrounding the
parties disagreement over the rules of recovery, see supra n.1, we need not reach
these issues because w e agree with the district courts proximate cause analysis.
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Stat. 42-4-230 or whether Defendants were obliged to com ply with the federal
regulation.
B.
U nder Colorado law, violation of a statute, ordinance, or regulation adopted
for the publics safety may be negligence per se. In Hageman v. TSI, Inc., 786 P.2d
452, 453-454 (Colo. App. 1989), the Colorado Court of Appeals stated:
Violation of a statute or ordinance adopted for the publics safety may
be negligence per se and establish the violators civil liability for all
damages proximately caused thereby. Before the doctrine can apply,
the injured party must show that he or she is a member of the class that
the statute or ordinance was intended to protect, that the injuries
suffered were of the kind the statute was enacted to prevent, and that
the statute or ordinance prescribes or proscribes specific conduct. If
these criteria are met, the legislation establishes the standard of conduct
of a reasonable person, subject in some cases to the violators
affirmative defense that compliance was impossible or would have
created a greater risk of danger or injury.
Even if the violation of a statute supports a negligence per se claim, the plaintiff
must still show the defendants negligence was the cause of the plaintiffs injuries.
Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., -- P.3d --, 2007 W L 177686, at *4 (Colo.
App. January 25, 2007) (noting that plaintiffs alleging negligence per se must show
that defendants statutory violation proximately caused the injuries at issue). Here,
even assuming Defendants violated Colo. Rev. Stat. 42-4-230 and 49 C.F.R
392.22, and such violations constituted negligence per se, Plaintiffs failed to present
evidence that such violations were the proximate cause of the accident.
Plaintiffs do not cite to instances in the record indicating they raised a
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question of fact as to the proximate cause of the accident; instead, they insist
proximate cause is an issue for the jury to decide, not a question of law for the judge
to decide at summary judgm ent. As a general rule, Plaintiffs are correct and the
question of proximate cause in a negligence case is one of fact for the jury.
Bannister v. Noble, 812 F.2d 1265, 1267 (10th Cir. 1987). But, the proximate cause
of an injury becomes a question of law w here the evidence together with all
inferences which may be properly deduced therefrom is insufficient to show a causal
connection betw een the alleged wrong and the injury. Id. (quoting Gates v. United
States, 707 F.2d 1141, 1145 (10th Cir. 1983)); see also Jones v. Jefferson County
School Dist., 392 P.2d 165, 167 (Colo. 1964) (when the facts are undisputed and
reasonable minds can draw but one inference from them, then the question of
proximate cause is one of law to be decided by the court). In other words, to survive
sum m ary judgment, the party bearing the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive
issue must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts so as to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence, as a triable issue, of an element
essential to that partys case. See M cKnight v. Kimberly Clark Corp., 149 F.3d
1125, 1128 (10th Cir. 1998).
W e agree with the district court that Plaintiffs failed to show the absence of
the warning triangles proximately caused the collision. The undisputed facts reveal
that November 26, 2001 was a clear day, and both trucks had their emergency hazard
lights flashing. Trooper Jason Bandy, the state police officer who responded to the
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accident, testified that minutes before the accident he drove past the trucks sitting
on the exit ramp and he could easily see them. The trucks w ere pulled off into the
exit lane or the exit ramp and not in the main two lanes of eastbound travel on the
interstate. Despite clear visibility, the display of hazard lights and the placement of
the trucks off the traveled portion of the highway, M orozov inexplicably slammed
into the rear of the semi-truck without slowing down and without sw erving to avoid
it.
Based on these undisputed facts, we agree with the district court that nothing
suggests placement of the triangles would have prevented the collision. In other
words, absolutely nothing in the record suggests Roslers failure to put out the
warning triangles was the proximate cause of the accident. Because Plaintiffs failed
to present any evidence that Defendants caused the accident, an essential element of
their claim, the district court correctly granted summary judgment in this case.
A FFIR ME D.
Entered for the Court,

Bobby R. Baldock
United States Circuit Judge